Last night at their Anniversary Gala, Ammud: The Jews of Color Torah Academy had an extraordinary triumph. Well-executed from the initial planning to the event itself, the entire production of the gala was an astounding display of the strength and beauty of Ammud and the community of Jews of Color standing with them.
Ammud raised approximately $30,000 to continue providing Jewish education by and for Jews of Color—nearly three times their initial goal. The gala also included a raffle as part of their fundraising efforts, with a wide range of community-sourced offerings: Hebrew lessons, homemade pies, a Costco grocery run, custom-painted plant pots, a graduate school application consultation, a restorative care basket, a personalized song—anything community members were able to provide—and even T-shirts and hoodies sporting the Ammud logo that the organization produced for the event and marketed on their social media accounts.
What may seem like an unusual collection of items is actually a powerful display of communal support that has been the hallmark of Ammud from their inception. In fact, communal support has sustained marginalized communities in the face of oppression across history and geography. It is part of the ongoing Jewish story of survival.
“The world we live in is dangerous and it’s treacherous,” Arielle Korman, Co-founder and Executive Director of Ammud, said. “And it’s not built for the survival or thriving of marginalized communities. But I’m committing myself and I hope you will too, to the work of creating more and better spaces where relief, joy, learning, loving disagreement, and collective growth can happen…we are blessed to be creating a space for JoCs to grow their leadership.”
Ammud has also been an incredible example of the strength that forms in Jewish communities that embrace intersectional experiences of identity. Centering queer Jews of Color and forming an intentionally multigenerational community means that Ammud is actively constructing an intersectional future in the here and now. Riki Robinson, the Jews of Color Initiative’s Program Coordinator and a Board member for Ammud said, “rather than flattening all JoC into one category, I believe that Ammud uplifts the diversity and dynamism within our community…We are inextricably bound together through our shared identity as Jews of Color and our struggle for equitable and inclusive spaces in and outside Jewish communities.”
The vibrancy of wisdom, talent, ingenuity, and sheer ruach (spirit) of the Ammud family was evident through the entire evening of the gala. The event was curated with a humorously drunken Purim spiel, beautiful musical performances, and top-notch hosting from William DeMeritt.
Kendell Pinkney, a rabbinical student at Jewish Theological Seminary and the inaugural Rabbinic Fellow for Ammud, shared his experiences of finding family with the Ammud community. “To be able to walk into a space with Ammud, whether real or virtual, and immediately feel as if I’m coming home, as if I’m coming home to family…it’s lovely to walk into a space where people aren’t asking you to justify your Jewish bonafides but rather saying, ‘Hey, good to see you. You wanna study some Torah together?’”
Feeling at ease and able to be one’s full self is one of the cornerstones of Ammud and was a recurring theme in the evening’s program. Ari L. Monts read a collaborative community poem compiled by Sivan Battat that shared the hope of wholeness for Jews of Color: “We bless our community with the self-determination to continue to bring our full selves to the learning. May we find more and more ways to tell our stories…may we never stop making Jewish noise together.”
Perhaps the most breathtaking moment in the evening was a poem by Aurora Levins-Morales that spoke to the heart of the JoC experience, cutting through themes of suffering, beauty, possibility, and solidarity.
Levins-Morales read her poem, “Racial Justice Invocation,” with love and hope for Jews of Color spilling over the surface, finding words to capture the bitter pain of encountering racism and exclusion among the Jewish community for those who have “hovered at the edges” where our “white cousins ask if we are the help.” In the face of this trauma, Levins-Morales showed the determination of Jews of Color to hold true to our full selves, “aching to speak our Jewishness in accents you have never heard before.”
“We who are called Indigenous, called Black, and of color
we Jews beyond the Ashkenazi pale
will step, hobble, roll into the center
fiercely lovely in our unedited truths
bringing all our ancestors, speaking all their languages, into this room
saying, we are not confusing
singing, we Jews are a garment of a thousand threads,
a coat of 20 million colors
for the heart of the Jewish world lives equally in every Jew
and no one is exotic
and every one of us is Jewish enough
and however we travel through the world is a Jewish path.”
You can view a full recording of the gala on Ammud’s Facebook page.